Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Defenders of the Faith


So here we are, about to go to the mat for the last time -- this winter -- with the residual consequences of the JFK assassination.  Each inquiry exacts a price.  "Most 'respectable' academics, journalists, and news organizations don't want to get near the matter, lest they be labeled conspiracy nuts," Russ Baker points out early in his study of the connections among the oil boys, the Bushes and the CIA.  Family of Secrets tracks decades of off-stage plotting intended to bring down successive administrations, what Peter Dale Scott has called the "deep politics" surrounding the murder of JFK.

As competent investigators have picked the Warren Commission Report apart, and writers in this field have been relegated to the badlands of publishing, several establishment publishers have stepped forward in the belated attempt to recusscitate the Warren Commission's moribund conclusions.  Whatever credibility the Report once had got banged around throughout even the comparatively peripheral hearings conducted by Senators Schweiker and Church during the mid-1970s.   The remnants got torn up pretty badly when the Select Committee on Assassinations went to work in the House of Representatives.
The counterattack was mounted in 1993, when Random House published  Gerald Posner's Case Closed.
 Rather than reinforcing the demonstrably skewed evidence the Warren Report depended on, Posner seemed to spend his energy attempting to discredit individual critics of the Report with whom he preferred to disagree -- after months lost poring over the notional material J. Edgar Hoover concocted in FBI archives -- along with key witnesses.  Anthony Summers' important interviews with Guy Banister's secretary, Delphine Roberts, must be discounted entirely because Summers paid her to sit down with him.  And besides, Delphine was Banister's mistress. One of the lead investigators on chief counsel Robert Blakey's staff on the House Committee was the astute Gaeton Fonzi, whom  Posner dismisses as "an unusual choice for an inquiry" because he had written magazine pieces dubious about the Report before and after the House Committee announced its verdict: There had indeed been a conspiracy.  Better a rubber stamp, a skeptic is unconscionable on a staff conducting an investigaztion.  No amount of testimony holds up for Posner.  A mere six witnesses saw Oswald and mob pilot David Ferrie together in Clinton, Louisiana the summer of 1963?  Out of hundreds interviewed?  Not good enough for Posner, no matter what the House Assassination Committee concluded.

In time Posner himself would run into trouble.  Individuals he quoted denied that they had ever talked with the author, while both of the pathologists who had conducted autopsies on JFK's remains insisted they had not said anything like what Posner quoted them as saying.  Kennedy had been shot from the front, a hollow-point bullet had blown out the back of his skull, and the medical staffs in Parkland Hospital in Dallas and at Bethesda agreed about that.

Posner's problems  have compounded.  Repeated charges of plagiarism have haunted him and led to his dismissal as chief investigative reporter for The Daily Beast.  The Warren Report obviously needed a sturdier champion.  In 2007 Norton published Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi, the author of Helter Skelter.  At 1612 pages this eight-pound tome is unsuitable for bedtime reading.  Any attempt to verify its contents becomes agonizing because the notes are purportedly to be found in the attached CD, a collating kerfuffle even the most dedicated savant would attempt to duck. 

As I attempted to indicate in my notes for the trade paperback edition of Bobby and J. Edgar, Bugliosi seems to think he has solved the primary inconsistencies through the sort of reasoning he takes to the medical evidence, noting with no small bemusement that "the most honest people in the world can think they saw the darnedest things." Parkland Hospital surgeon Robert McClelland appeared to remain "fixated on this large gaping hole in the back of the president's head," for all Bugliosi's earnest efforts to persuade McClelland that the wound must have been delusional.  Bugliosi tracks virtually hour by hour Oswald's return to New Orleans the summer of 1963 but leaves out Oswald's well-verified dance with Guy Banister, David Ferrie and the rest of the gnomes around whom New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison  would build his case.  Like Posner, Bugliosi's method remains mostly to insult or dismiss his critics rather than come up with even a shred of meaningful counter-evidence.

The truth is, many have come forward.  What happened on November 22, 1963 is reasonably clear.  Why this happened -- whose geopolitical purposes were served, who benefited in the short run, who financed our national nightmare -- even all this is slowly coming into view.

But that must wait for another winter.


Burton Hersh

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